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Dear Dub: Boss-ass bitches

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Written by Emma Hennessy

Photos via Slate (left) and Fandom (right)

My younger sister solidified her place as the assertive sibling in our family the moment she professed she would not accept rides from me to school anymore until my car was kept to her standards of cleanliness. She was always the bossy one. And I, apparently, was the messy one. But I was also more introverted. I was the sister known to apologize so frequently and reflexively that my response when violently colliding into a piece of furniture was not say “owww,” but “I’m sorry.”

It is hard to disentangle societal norms from innate personal qualities. As much as we speak about reclaiming confidence and forcefulness at the Women’s Resource Center, anyone who knows me well understands I often have difficulty doing so myself. Despite this, I also believe that women who are more assertive should not be criticized for it. They should not be condemned for simply acting like men. It seems that as a culture, this at once radical realization is slowly becoming an accept-ed truism. Now, girls are less deterred about being called a “bitch,” and instead proudly pro-claim that “bossy bitches get shit done.” But what is a girl to do to become a boss-ass bitch in the first place?

Learned on the first day of orientation on the playground, a young lass quickly picks up that one the worst things you can be called is “bossy.” I still am not entirely sure what the male equivalent of this insult is, but my difficulty even placing the word shows how gendered this antiquated dig is. The word “bossy” literally comes from the word “boss,” a noun which came into the English language in the 1660s as a way of describing a ship’s captain. The word “bossy” inherently comes from the idea of being commanding. The worst insults to describe young boys are all words that degrade his character. It is a strange culture we live in that one of the words girls fear most is one that simply means she enjoy leading.

My younger sister, to this day, still exhibits many of the traits associated with being bossy. She is dominant, confident, forceful, and a natural leader. It gives me so much happiness that the various traditionally masculine traits she exudes are now met with more appreciation when exhibited by other women. We are finally in an age where a woman being called a “badass” is now a compliment, and “bitch,” if slowly, is losing its cultural relevancy (ha-ha, take that Hall and Oates and your rich bitches). There are so many fictional characters now for young girls like my sister to grow up seeing, from Katniss Everdeen to Hermione Granger, who prove you can be the hero of your own story while defending yourself unabashedly along the way.

For much of my adolescence, I tried to be this assertive heroine. There was a strength I saw in resisting more feminine traits, and even as a child, I aspired to be more of a Joan of Arc than any of the Disney princesses I saw in movies. I wanted to be powerful, a word, etymologically, which comes from the word “battle”. And for much of my childhood, I thought that to be a powerful young woman, you had to be ready to go to war.

However, the truth is, for girls of any age, you do not have to resist femininity to be a warrior. Joan of Arc was a powerful woman indeed, and perhaps someone my sister Lilly could have been incredibly similar to in another life. But to accept the potential of women is to accept their diversity in ambitions and how they wish to pursue them. You do not have to be a fighter to be strong. Even more, you can be a warrior while still embracing your softness. It does not make a woman any less tough if she chooses to prioritize pacificity over combativeness. And being someone who is more focused on the emotions of others is in itself something you are fight-ing for. But most of all, you can keep saying you’re sorry, and that does not make you any less of a boss.

About the author

Emma Hennessy